Sandy Causes Power Outages, Flooding In N.J.

NPR Jim Zarroli speaks with Steve Inskeep about how Superstorm Sandy has impacted parts of New Jersey.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. So we heard the number earlier this hour. Our correspondent Elizabeth Shogren checked in with major utilities, found at least 7 million customers without power. A couple million of them are New Jersey, and the state's governor, Chris Christie, says many people without power might be waiting a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: During Hurricane Irene, restoration took eight days for full restoration. For Hurricane Sandy, the full restoration may, in fact, take longer. Full damage assessment will not be complete until 24 to 48 hours, due to some of the weather delays. They cannot develop a timeframe for restoration until damage assessments are underway, and obviously these difficult weather conditions are making this more of a challenge.

INSKEEP: Okay. So he says it might be more than eight days to get everybody's power back on. NPR's Jim Zarroli's been traveling through northern New Jersey today. We heard earlier today that he traveled through the Lincoln Tunnel from Manhattan and out into north Jersey. And Jim, what have you been seeing?

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, I'm in Bergen County. There's been a lot of flooding here, especially in the town of Moonachie, there was a levee on the Hackensack River that burst, basically flooding the entire town. They were able to evacuate everybody, so there weren't any casualties at all. But there's a lot of flooding. I mean, almost everywhere you go in all the towns, through Hackensack and Little Ferry in particular, just a lot of roads, a lot of people trying to sort of drive through water that they shouldn't drive through and getting stuck.

So it's a pretty bad situation here.

INSKEEP: Got a very varied landscape there. You've got hills. You've got marshes. You've got a few major rivers. Is it a matter of rivers overflowing their banks, is that what's happened here?

ZARROLI: Yeah, the Hackensack River, in particular, I think that it floods fairly often and the towns along there, towns like Little Ferry get flooded. I mean, I spent a while this morning at a big intersection in the town of Little Ferry. You basically couldn't go in any direction because there was flooding, you know, everywhere. And I was - it looked pretty dramatic to me, but I actually talked to somebody who said, yeah, well, you know, when we have a bad storm, this area tends to flood.

But I don't think they've seen anything like that. I mean, everybody that I talked to, you know, was just overwhelmed. And in addition, of course, to the flooding there, there's also a lot of power outages right now. You know, I was just talking to a guy in Ridgefield Park who said basically the whole town there is without power, has been since last night.

INSKEEP: Now, that matter of losing power doesn't start out serious, gets more serious hour by hour and day by day. What are the urgent needs that may be emerging as this day goes on, or as it stretches into several days as we just heard from Governor Christie?

ZARROLI: Well, you know, I'm sure that - I mean, nothing is open here. There are no stores. You can't even buy food, for instance. You know, I think people sort of knew about this and tried to prepare, but obviously, the longer it goes on, the longer the power's out, the more difficult it becomes. So, you know, it's all going to depend on how quickly they can get things back in order here.

INSKEEP: Now you mentioned flooding and that there's some roads blocked here and there. How easy is it to move around?

ZARROLI: Well, you know, I drove around this morning with a tow truck driver who's basically been out all night sort of looking for people who were stalled out and, you know, he goes up to them and, of course, they're thrilled to see him because they've been sitting there in the water. And he takes them out and takes them back to his shop. So, you know, in addition to everything else, it's been lucrative for him.

But, you know, he - we were driving and, of course, he's in the tow truck, so he can drive a lot of places, you know, a Toyota can't. But we were constantly having to stop and back up and take another road because the water was too high.

INSKEEP: And did the people who were getting rescued by this tow truck driver have stories about why it was they were out in this kind of weather in the first place?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I think they just kind of didn't understand how bad it was. I think a lot of people, too, they - you know, you see the water, and you don't know how deep it is and you think, well, I'll take a chance. It's hard to gauge. I mean, I talked to a guy this morning who was in a - he was in a pickup truck and worked for one of the local power companies. He was desperately trying to get back to his house in Little Ferry because his family was trapped.

I mean, there's been a lot of flooding there. They're sort of trapped on the second floor. He wants to get to them. So he was really just trying to get through, and try - and I talked to him for a while. He was trying to gauge, you know, is this water too deep? Can I get through it in my truck? And ultimately, I think he just decided he couldn't.

INSKEEP: Okay. All right. That's NPR's Jim Zarroli in Bergen County, New Jersey. Jim, thanks very much.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

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